Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers
Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers

How to Make Your Writing Flow

How to Make Your Writing Flow

Do you remember the last time you read a book that you simply couldn’t put down? When you can’t stop reading a good novel, it is likely because the flow of the writing carried you through from sentence to sentence and from page to page. In this blog post, I’ll show you how you can turn your paper into that page-turner story for your reviewers and readers.

Unfortunately, when reading papers, readers often get lost – unlike that good book you devoured recently. The contents of papers are usually a little harder to digest than those of novels, but that’s not the only reason why readers get stuck: Many scientific authors underestimate the power of flow in writing. And because what you are communicating in your paper is complicated, you have even more reason to help your readers (including your reviewers) to move from sentence to sentence without needing to stop and think.

In other words, if you want your papers and to be read (and cited), you need to do most of the work for your reader. And one important part of this is implementing flow in your writing.

How do we achieve flow in writing?

To achieve flow in your text, it should be clear why exactly you are providing certain information at exactly the point you do. The key to this is having a great structure in your article. For example, if you cover three different topics in one paragraph and don’t clarify how they relate, the paragraph will lack coherence and be hard to read.

Another crucial part to achieving flow is to always provide enough information so that your reader can comprehend each sentence or each part of a sentence in your text based on the information provided thus far: The information you provide in your paper should build on each other.

You can achieve this by starting each sentence by referring to information that was provided in the or a previous sentence before introducing new information.

A Simple example of flow in writing

Let me give you a silly example to clarify what I mean:

Text image with highlighted words: "walk" in yellow and "forest" in green, describing an evening walk with a dog named zuza who enjoyed seeing deer in the forest.

In this example, “walk” in the second sentence is old information that was provided in the first sentence, and “forest” is the new information. In the beginning of the third sentence, “forest” gets reiterated before providing new information.

By the way, the scenario described in these sentences is totally realistic 😉

In the above example, old and new information were introduced in order, which makes it easy for the reader. Let’s have a look at this example, where the old information isn’t provided before introducing new information:

Simple three sentences to use as an example. My dog Zuza fell asleep this evening after a long walk. We went to a nearby forest for our walk. My dog was excited that we saw a lot of deer in the forest.

The flow in these sentence is worse than in the first example. It’s still easy to read these sentences because the content isn’t hard.

Free training to learn more about flow in writing

A real example of flow in writing

But how about some actual scientific writing that may require your brain to do a little bit more work than reading about Zuza’s life? To give you an example, I lifted a paragraph from the Introduction section of a random paper*. I won’t mention the authors’ names here – not because I don’t want to give them credit but because I do not want to shame them. The problem of missing flow is really common, and I picked this example randomly.

Below is the (almost) original paragraph that I only lightly copy-edited, e.g. by removing the reference numbers. I did not change the sentence structure.

The original paragraph of text that we are working with. It reads as follows: Raman spectroscopy is a well-known analytic tool, which can be used for molecule detection without labeling and destructing objects. However, the Raman intensity is weak when detecting tiny amounts of target molecules. To overcome this issue, enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) has been developed to improve the sensitivity of Raman detection, which can provide an ultra-sensitive spectral analysis of probing molecules. Beyond metal-like plasmonic materials (e.g., silicon sandwich, graphene, and titanium nitride), noble metals (Au, Ag, Cu) with coarse surfaces are active SERS substrate. Among these noble metals, Ag exhibits the best optical absorption and scattering properties due to localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPRs).

This paragraph is not too bad! It contains all the information the reader needs, and it moves from the more general to the more specific. Below, I highlighted the different pieces of information that are being introduced and then referred to.

A text paragraph that has been highlighted in certain parts to emphasize how moving related information closer to each other to make your writing flow. Raman spectroscopy is a well-known analytic tool, which can be used for molecule detection without labeling and destructing objects. However, the Raman intensity is weak when detecting tiny amounts of target molecules. To overcome this issue, enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) has been developed to improve the sensitivity of Raman detection, which can provide an ultra-sensitive spectral analysis of probing molecules. Beyond metal-like plasmonic materials (e.g., silicon sandwich, graphene, and titanium nitride), noble metals (Au, Ag, Cu) with coarse surfaces are active SERS substrate. Among these noble metals, Ag exhibits the best optical absorption and scattering properties due to localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPRs).

You may already have guessed that I would suggest to improve the flow in this paragraph by rearranging the information provided, i.e. by moving information highlighted in the same colour closer together. When you read the restructured paragraph below, notice whether you found it easier to understand than the above version:

A text paragraph that has been highlighted in certain parts to emphasize how moving related information closer to each other to make your writing flow. Raman spectroscopy is a well-known analytic tool, which can be used for molecule detection without labeling and destructing objects. However, when detecting tiny amounts of target molecules, the Raman intensity is weak. To improve the sensitivity of Raman detection and to provide an ultra-sensitive spectral analysis of probing molecules, surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) has been developed. As active SERS substrates, metal-like plasmonic materials (e.g., silicon sandwich, graphene, and titanium nitride) and noble metals (Au, Ag, Cu) with coarse surfaces can be used. Among these noble metals, Ag exhibits the best optical absorption and scattering properties due to localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPRs).

And here’s the same version of the paragraph showing all the changes I’ve made:

Image of a text excerpt discussing raman spectroscopy and its enhancement by surface-enhanced raman scattering (sers) for detecting tiny amounts of molecules using substrates like silver and gold.

Isn’t it amazing how such small structural changes can hugely improve the flow and thus readability of scientific writing?!

Has this tutorial been useful to you? Let me know by posting a comment below!

*Reference: Scientific Reports 9, 17634 (2019). The article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Free writing training for researchers

Does writing for a high-impact journal feel intimidating? Partly because you’ve never received proper academic writing training?

In this free online training, Dr Anna Clemens introduces you to her template to write papers in a systematic fashion — demystifying the process of writing for journals with wide audiences.

Share article

How to Make Your Writing Flow

Do you remember the last time you read a book that you simply couldn’t put down? When you can’t stop reading a good novel, it is likely because the flow of the writing carried you through from sentence to sentence and from page to page. In this blog post, I’ll show you how you can turn your paper into that page-turner story for your reviewers and readers.

Unfortunately, when reading papers, readers often get lost – unlike that good book you devoured recently. The contents of papers are usually a little harder to digest than those of novels, but that’s not the only reason why readers get stuck: Many scientific authors underestimate the power of flow in writing. And because what you are communicating in your paper is complicated, you have even more reason to help your readers (including your reviewers) to move from sentence to sentence without needing to stop and think.

In other words, if you want your papers and to be read (and cited), you need to do most of the work for your reader. And one important part of this is implementing flow in your writing.

How do we achieve flow in writing?

To achieve flow in your text, it should be clear why exactly you are providing certain information at exactly the point you do. The key to this is having a great structure in your article. For example, if you cover three different topics in one paragraph and don’t clarify how they relate, the paragraph will lack coherence and be hard to read.

Another crucial part to achieving flow is to always provide enough information so that your reader can comprehend each sentence or each part of a sentence in your text based on the information provided thus far: The information you provide in your paper should build on each other.

You can achieve this by starting each sentence by referring to information that was provided in the or a previous sentence before introducing new information.

A Simple example of flow in writing

Let me give you a silly example to clarify what I mean:

Text image with highlighted words: "walk" in yellow and "forest" in green, describing an evening walk with a dog named zuza who enjoyed seeing deer in the forest.

In this example, “walk” in the second sentence is old information that was provided in the first sentence, and “forest” is the new information. In the beginning of the third sentence, “forest” gets reiterated before providing new information.

By the way, the scenario described in these sentences is totally realistic 😉

In the above example, old and new information were introduced in order, which makes it easy for the reader. Let’s have a look at this example, where the old information isn’t provided before introducing new information:

Simple three sentences to use as an example. My dog Zuza fell asleep this evening after a long walk. We went to a nearby forest for our walk. My dog was excited that we saw a lot of deer in the forest.

The flow in these sentence is worse than in the first example. It’s still easy to read these sentences because the content isn’t hard.

Free training to learn more about flow in writing

A real example of flow in writing

But how about some actual scientific writing that may require your brain to do a little bit more work than reading about Zuza’s life? To give you an example, I lifted a paragraph from the Introduction section of a random paper*. I won’t mention the authors’ names here – not because I don’t want to give them credit but because I do not want to shame them. The problem of missing flow is really common, and I picked this example randomly.

Below is the (almost) original paragraph that I only lightly copy-edited, e.g. by removing the reference numbers. I did not change the sentence structure.

The original paragraph of text that we are working with. It reads as follows: Raman spectroscopy is a well-known analytic tool, which can be used for molecule detection without labeling and destructing objects. However, the Raman intensity is weak when detecting tiny amounts of target molecules. To overcome this issue, enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) has been developed to improve the sensitivity of Raman detection, which can provide an ultra-sensitive spectral analysis of probing molecules. Beyond metal-like plasmonic materials (e.g., silicon sandwich, graphene, and titanium nitride), noble metals (Au, Ag, Cu) with coarse surfaces are active SERS substrate. Among these noble metals, Ag exhibits the best optical absorption and scattering properties due to localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPRs).

This paragraph is not too bad! It contains all the information the reader needs, and it moves from the more general to the more specific. Below, I highlighted the different pieces of information that are being introduced and then referred to.

A text paragraph that has been highlighted in certain parts to emphasize how moving related information closer to each other to make your writing flow. Raman spectroscopy is a well-known analytic tool, which can be used for molecule detection without labeling and destructing objects. However, the Raman intensity is weak when detecting tiny amounts of target molecules. To overcome this issue, enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) has been developed to improve the sensitivity of Raman detection, which can provide an ultra-sensitive spectral analysis of probing molecules. Beyond metal-like plasmonic materials (e.g., silicon sandwich, graphene, and titanium nitride), noble metals (Au, Ag, Cu) with coarse surfaces are active SERS substrate. Among these noble metals, Ag exhibits the best optical absorption and scattering properties due to localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPRs).

You may already have guessed that I would suggest to improve the flow in this paragraph by rearranging the information provided, i.e. by moving information highlighted in the same colour closer together. When you read the restructured paragraph below, notice whether you found it easier to understand than the above version:

A text paragraph that has been highlighted in certain parts to emphasize how moving related information closer to each other to make your writing flow. Raman spectroscopy is a well-known analytic tool, which can be used for molecule detection without labeling and destructing objects. However, when detecting tiny amounts of target molecules, the Raman intensity is weak. To improve the sensitivity of Raman detection and to provide an ultra-sensitive spectral analysis of probing molecules, surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) has been developed. As active SERS substrates, metal-like plasmonic materials (e.g., silicon sandwich, graphene, and titanium nitride) and noble metals (Au, Ag, Cu) with coarse surfaces can be used. Among these noble metals, Ag exhibits the best optical absorption and scattering properties due to localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPRs).

And here’s the same version of the paragraph showing all the changes I’ve made:

Image of a text excerpt discussing raman spectroscopy and its enhancement by surface-enhanced raman scattering (sers) for detecting tiny amounts of molecules using substrates like silver and gold.

Isn’t it amazing how such small structural changes can hugely improve the flow and thus readability of scientific writing?!

Has this tutorial been useful to you? Let me know by posting a comment below!

*Reference: Scientific Reports 9, 17634 (2019). The article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Free writing training for researchers

Does writing for a high-impact journal feel intimidating? Partly because you’ve never received proper academic writing training?

In this free online training, Dr Anna Clemens introduces you to her template to write papers in a systematic fashion — demystifying the process of writing for journals with wide audiences.

Share article

© Copyright 2018-2024 by Anna Clemens. All Rights Reserved. 

 

Photography by Alice Dix